I’ve come to believe that resilience is one of the key life skills of the 21st century.

Indeed over the last few decades I have been challenged in my own personal life to reflect on how resilience is central to finding true and meaningful success in life. (For more on that see How Would You Define Success? Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

But what exactly do we mean by resilience? it certainly does not  come naturally. Here is how the late 19th to early 20th century writer Oswald Chambers expressed a lack of resilience and its consequences:

“A great fear has been at work in my mind and God has used it to arouse me to prayer. I came across a man whom I knew years ago, a mighty man of God, and now ten years have gone and I meet him again- garrulous and unenlivened. How many men seem to become like that after forty years of age! The fear of sloth and indulgence has come home with a huge fear and fairly driven me to God to keep me from ever forgetting what I owe Him.”

Although Chambers wrote over a hundred years ago and does not use the word resilience, his use of those two words, garrulous (that is excessively talkative about trivia) and unenlivened (dull and uninteresting) are sobering. Also is his reflection on how common this can be in those who are over 40!

Another writer V. W. Burroughs puts it quite bluntly when he says,
“One of the saddest experiences is to awaken at old age and discover that one has been using only a small part of the self.”

Resilience is about the power to master change, thrive under pressure and bounce back from setbacks. In our fast changing and increasingly complex world it is a vital life skill to master. As Chambers and Burroughs both point out, it is by no means an automatic skill.

Excessive fatigue, stress, depressive thinking, burnout and even cynicism are all hall marks of a lack of resilience. These symptoms are a growing feature of modern life.

But that does not necessarily have to be the case.

What is a resilient person? It sounds good, noble and even inspiring. But what does resilience look like in someone? Here are some definitions to consider:

A resilient person is……

– Someone who has gone through adversity and not got weaker, but become stronger so they can be an inspiration to others.
(Gordon Macdonald)

Is not someone who always does things right; there’re a person who always gets back up. The issue is not have we fallen, but are we getting back up? If you are getting up you are a resilient person.

(John Maxwell)

– able to absorb high levels of disruptive change, bounce back and even excel in times of change and uncertainty, without acting in dysfunctional ways.
(Mary Steinhardt)

able to be successful both personally and professionally in the midst of a high-pressured fast paced and continuously changing environment.
(Glaxo Smith Kline)

Or perhaps to put it most succinctly, the resilient person is able to….

intelligently deploy limited resources (David Becker).

able to absorb high levels of disruptive change.

Indeed on-going change is a key feature of modern life. And that rate of change is continually increasing. On one level we certainly have the potential for a more enhanced quality of life compared to previous generations. However, it is so easy to increase our stress levels to take on more than we have resources to handle. There is always something more we could do – another email to write, another person to reach out to, or another task that needs to be done that is crying out for our attention. The list really is endless and changing continually through email, text messages, social media and the latest new idea.

So we can define resilience as the ability to……

– Cope well with high levels of ongoing disruptive change

– Sustain good health, energy and performance when under constant pressure.

– Bounce back easily from setbacks

– overcome adversities

– change to a new way of working and living when an old way is no longer possible.

– do all this without acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways

– have access to your ‘best self.’

How do resilient people behave and how can we grow in resilience? How can I get stronger rather than weaker when the challenges and problems hit me?

We will look at that in the next post, but for now what questions, ideas and thoughts does the concept of resilience raise for you?